Former Attorney General Bill Barr said Friday that former President Donald Trump was “foolish” to keep classified information at his Mar-a-Lago resort and added that the 45th president’s claim that he had a standing order to declassify sensitive information would be a reckless abuse of power.
“I can’t think of a legitimate reason why they should have been — could be taken out of the government, away from the government, if they’re classified,” Barr told Fox News’ “America Reports” after a detailed inventory of property taken by FBI agents in their Aug. 8 raid of the 45th president’s Florida estate was made public by a federal judge.
“I frankly am skeptical of this claim that ‘I declassified everything,’” Barr added, “because frankly, I think it’s highly improbable. And second, if in fact, he sort of stood over scores of boxes, not really knowing what was in them and said, ‘I hereby declassify everything in here,’ that would be such an abuse and show such recklessness that it’s almost worse than taking the documents.”
The property list unsealed by US District Judge Aileen Cannon indicated that 11,179 seized government documents and photographs bore no classification markings at all.
By contrast, 54 documents removed from Mar-a-Lago were marked “SECRET,” 31 were labeled “CONFIDENTIAL” and another 18 were labeled “TOP SECRET.”
Agents also took 48 empty folders labeled with “CLASSIFIED” banners while another 42 empty folders were labeled “Return to Staff Secretary/Military Aide.” It is not clear from the inventory list why the folders were empty.
Barr also dismissed Trump’s request for a neutral third party, known as a “special master,” to go through the documents taken from his home to see if any of them were covered by attorney-client privilege.
“I think the whole idea of a special master is a bit of a red herring,” the former AG said. “The only documents that have been taken, it seems to me, that there’s a legitimate concern about keeping away from the government and insulating the government from would be documents relating to his private lawyer communications [between] him as an individual and his outside lawyers. If there’s stuff like that, fine, identify it. If there doesn’t appear to be much of it, I’m not sure you need a special master to identify it … you know, at this stage since they’ve already gone through the documents, I think it’s a waste of time.”
Barr added that even if Trump is correct that other documents taken in the raid were subject to executive privilege, those records “either belong to the government because they’re government records — even if they’re classified, even if they’re subject to executive privilege, they still belong to the government and go to the [National] Archives.
“And any other documents that were seized, like news clippings and other things that were in the boxes containing the classified information, those were seizable under the [search] warrant because they show the conditions under which the classified information was being held,” he went on.
The search warrant, unsealed Aug. 12, revealed that Trump is under investigation for potential violations of three federal laws related to removal and storage of government information, including the Espionage Act.
“People say this was unprecedented, well it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put it in a country club, OK?” said Barr, who later added that “the facts are starting to show that [the DOJ was] being jerked around” by the former president and his legal team.
Despite his criticism of the former president, Barr said he hopes Trump is not prosecuted over the classified documents.
“It is clearly foolish, what happened, and inexplicable, but beyond that? They may well be able to make a case out here,” he said. “But then there’s an additional question: Given the fact this is a former president, given the state of the nation, and given the fact that the government has gotten its documents back, does it really make sense to bring a case as a matter of prudential judgment?
“And that’s a question that I think will turn on how clear the evidence of obstruction or deceit is,” Barr added. “If they clearly have the president moving stuff around and hiding stuff in his desk, and telling people to dissemble with the government, they may be inclined to bring that case … I hope it doesn’t happen.”